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The Somme - with Goretext but no shells! - Chris Walker

Who said the Wednesday Wanderers were fair weather walkers! As a variation on our last three circular walks spread around the winter solstice we decided for 11/12 to do a linear walk – The Ribble Way from source to mouth (nearly!)

Week 1 saw a large number of returnees from Asian adventures plus the stay at homers assembling at Gearstones (near Ribblehead) to hunt down the source of the Ribble. It rained but at least it was on our backs and not all day! We found a convincing source – a spring issuing from the base of a minor outcrop. Depending on which guide you read our source was one of 13! We soon picked up the first of the Ribble Way signs – little did we know that the squiggly line indicating flowing water would be prophetic of weeks to follow. The Station Inn at Ribblehead provided sustenance and a coal fire at the end of day 1.

Week 2 saw most of week 1’s survivors plus guest appearances from our Welsh domiciled and Irish friends! With a couple of vehicles left at Horton the instructions were simple – “out of the village, keep going and at T junction turn right and park on right in about a mile”. Too complicated for Brian who forgot the “keep going” bit! Anyway it only delayed the group for about an hour! A wet day (they said on the day “very wet” but all things are relative!) with horizontal sleet, hail and rain showers. However there was always the pub in Horton to look forward to. Oh how memories play tricks on you – what a god-forsaken, cold and dreary establishment it was on that afternoon!

Week 3 had a logistics feel to it. Mary was now getting into top gear – weekly e-mails with map extracts, meeting instructions and even suggestions for the week after! Meet at Rathmell, south of Settle and move men (sorry not pc – read persons!) and equipment to Horton. Full waterproofs on from go and we are in the mud and rain/hail very quickly! From here to Settle you stick closely to the river as far as Helwith Bridge where you climb east up to Little Moor Head and then back down to Stainforth- a very pleasant village, I am sure, on a dry day but with horizontal rain the only shelter was either inside or behind the toilet! Mince pies from Kev gave us some Christmas cheer and off we go. We can’t believe that the raging torrent we are watching tumble through Stainforth Force is the same dribble we saw two weeks ago. Press on and heads down, through Settle and then on through flooded fields to Rathmell. The one car left there took the drivers back to Horton leaving the remainder to take shelter in the, thankfully, open church. Back to Settle and memories of the Lion were thankfully not to let us down – a roaring fire and Thwaites Original!

Week 4 had us meeting in Gisburn to await our transport – a minibus fresh off the “school run”. Once back in Rathmell it turned out that three different maps all showed the Ribble Way in different locations. I can’t imagine this section ever being dry but for us it was a question of making sure boots were laced tight to avoid losing them in the deep mud! Lunch was taken on the only bit of high ground but the continual wet was briefly forgotten when Josie produced a flask of mulled wine! Glimpses of the Ribble were rare until we reached Paythorne Bridge and then a final bit of road was enlivened by some of the group chatting with a lady about to get in her hot-tub. No one took up the invite to join her! The landlord of the White Bull even opened up for us specially.

Week 5 A New Year and surely the weather must be better. No such luck – one of the wettest days walk imaginable- even the ducks were in doors! Though to be fair it was still dry when we caught the 9.34 in Skipton but unfortunately the BBC forecast was spot on! Heavy (perhaps torrential is not an exaggeration) rain from midmorning on!!

Barbed wire, new tree plantations, footpath deviations, the Ribble now lapping the footpath in places, flooded roads and fields and thick cloying clay all added up to what RT described as the worst day’s walk of his life!

Week 6 – to revive flagging spirits Josie has promised us hot food and drinks for those who are brave enough to come next week – Clitheroe to Ribchester. To be continued . . . .